Thursday 10th March 2022 at York Theatre Royal (Studio)
Jane Hair sees the famous Brontë sisters centre stage as three very different modern young women running a salon in Bradford. They bicker and they talk shop between snatches of poetry writing, debating the merits of their respective literary efforts and checking up on their online status. Then a spanner is thrown in the works: someone seems to have cottoned on to enough information to “out” them from under their pen names and endanger their anonymity.
Kirsty Smith and Kat Rose-Martin’s writing makes sure to have the sisters live up to their reputations and the cast do well to highlight the distinctive qualities of their characters. Emily (Joëlle Brabban) is the rebellious spirit itching to get back out on the moors – she’s all impatience and defiance. Charlotte (Keeley Lane) is the mature mother figure – bossy and calculating when it comes to survival and eager to lead the way. And then there’s poor Anne (Stephanie Rutherford) who is… sincere and wise and a fierce feminist at heart, but easily bulldozed by the wilder and louder natures of the other two. The script heavily modernises the trio through bang up to date reference points and online activity along with a good dose of potty mouthed one liners (the scrappy Emily, as if you couldn’t guess, is the main culprit) and there’s worthwhile humour at work in those choices.
But while the impending exposure element does allow for an entertaining display of how the very different sisters navigate their very different approaches to handling the situation at hand, the sense of purpose and/ or peril feels lacking overall. So some online personality has discovered some identifying information about these popular writers using pen names… and they’re not really keen on the idea of being outed and scrutinised, but debate about what to do doesn’t really feel like enough of a plot to keep us hooked. It’s also not really made clear why a salon is the career choice for the sisters, so in terms of casting the Brontës as hairdressers, it feels like quite a random choice instead of something fresh and inventive as we might hope.
The salon as setting does however provide the production with some nice visual flair and Kevin Jenkins’ set provides a perfect backdrop: pink accessories fill salon stations, offering pleasing symmetry and the kind of Insta-ready candy floss perfection (complete with one of those on-trend foliage walls) girly girls go gaga for. Further efforts to give the production a modern flavour include Director Chantell Walker’s use of snatches of synchronised movement to liven up transitions and Christella Litras’ sound design, which pumps out contemporary accompaniment to remind us that this is the Brontë sisterhood circa 2022.
There’s definitely plenty to entertain here as the Brontë sisters are given a rebrand as sweary, bickering modern women unafraid to tell folk where they can stick it, and there’s much to enjoy when it comes to seeing the famous dynamic of the sisters play out in the flesh, but on the whole, Jane Hair could do with a stronger sense of a driving force.
Jane Hair, produced by Buglight Theatre, tours until April 7th 2022 and you can find tickets and information here.